A spree of scams targeting Chinese women in San Francisco is linked to an April theft in Boston in which a woman reported being hypnotized into handing over thousands in cash and jewelry, according to Boston police.
Six women were arrested at San Francisco International Airport on May 10, accused of tricking three dozen elderly Chinese women out of $800,000 in cash and valuables by promising to rid them of evil spirits, according to a San Francisco police spokesman, Sergeant Daryl Fong.
The string of West Coast thefts rang familiar with authorities on the other side of the country: In April, a 57-year-old woman living in Boston’s Chinatown said she was hypnotized by three Cantonese-speaking women on the street, then handed over jewelry and $160,000 in cash in a plastic bag.
“Upon review of the facts and circumstances involved in both cases, investigators have determined that there is a connection between the schemes and those responsible for them,” said Officer James Kenneally, a Boston police spokesman.
Kenneally said that two of the women arrested in San Francisco — Feiyan Wu, 45, and Qinying Ke, 47 — were arrested on warrants charging them with conspiracy and larceny by scheme in the April incident in Boston.
Fong said police are aware of 36 similar cases in San Francisco beginning early this year. In most instances, three women, all Chinese citizens who speak Cantonese, approached an elderly Cantonese-speaking woman on a Chinatown street and claimed that they could see that the woman was cursed or that she had a ghost attached to her, Fong said. Often, one of the suspects told the victim that she worked with the elderly woman’s doctor or was the doctor’s granddaughter.
The suspects said they could cure the elderly woman’s ailment if she provided them with all her money and valuables in an opaque bag, Fong said. They then allegedly pretended to perform a ritual using the bag while secretly removing its contents, replacing the money and jewelry with newspaper and broken bottle pieces. They would return the bag to the victim, instructing her to place the bag under her bed for several days without looking inside, or else the cure would not work.
Days later, the victims discovered that their valuables were gone.
“It appeared that, clearly, there was a common thread in all these cases,” Fong said.
One of the San Francisco victims reported the crime to the San Francisco Police Department, which held a news conference on March 26 warning Chinese immigrants to be wary of strangers approaching them with cures for medical conditions.
The San Francisco police also provided several composite sketches and established a Cantonese-language tip line for victims of similar scams.
That news conference, Fong said, prompted a person to come forward with information about potential suspects. The person also told police that similar crimes had been committed in Boston and New York, prompting San Francisco police to contact police departments in both cities.
Five women, all citizens of China, were arrested in San Francisco on May 10 as they attempted to take a flight to Hong Kong. Between them, they had about $50,000 worth of jewelry and currency in their possession, Fong said.
Qinying Ke, one of the two women arrested on Boston charges, remains in police custody in San Francisco, but Feiyan Wu was later released after Boston police chose not to extradite her, Fong said. Three of the other arrested women – Lirong Lin, 57; Caiqiong Chen, 43; and Huifei Lin, 42 — were charged in incidents that occurred in San Francisco, though they also face arrest warrants issued by Boston and New York. A sixth woman was arrested but released immediately without charges.